Use voice control to play music, make calls, create shopping lists and reminders, and discover useful information more easily than ever
Ever wished you could place an Amazon order without lifting a finger? What about playing music from your favourite band just by saying their name? Surely you want to know what the weather is going to be like today, or what time the local supermarket closes. If you like the idea of a smart home assistant that can help you with all that and more, then you should think about buying a smart speaker.
Read on and we’ll explain which smart speakers will work best for you, and run through everything you need to know about the different brands and types on the market. And if you already know everything there is to know and just want to buy one right away, then simply scroll past our buying guide and dive into our top picks.
How to choose the best smart speaker for you
Why should I buy a smart speaker?
Unlike Bluetooth or wireless speakers that need to be controlled via a smartphone or tablet, a smart speaker is a far more versatile choice. Whether you’re lying on the sofa or cooking in the kitchen, you’re in control: you can pause and play your music, choose a new artist or genre, ask for a news update, or even add products to a weekly shopping list, all with a set of simple voice commands.
In short, you can ask them anything you’d otherwise ask your smartphone’s assistant, such as Google Assistant, Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa.
READ NEXT: Our pick of the best Bluetooth speakers
How does a smart speaker work?
Smart speakers need to be woken with a wake word – such as ‘Alexa’ or ‘Ok, Google’ – before you can ask questions or issue commands. These instructions can be as simple as asking the time, or what the weather will be like, but you can also ask for more specific facts and details, such as asking your assistant basic maths questions, to perform conversions from ounces to grams, or just to find out opening times for a local store.
If you also subscribe to a music streaming service such as Spotify, then you can play music simply by searching by artist, album or track name, genre or year.
And as the name suggests, smart speakers can also be used to control your smart home appliances. So, if you’ve got a Philips Hue bulb (or preferably several) you can adjust the brightness, colour and power all with a simple voice command.
What features should I look out for, and does size matter?
Smart speakers come in all shapes and sizes. The Amazon Echo Show is the biggest of them all. Its features a 10in touchscreen, a large speaker, a 5-megapixel front camera, and looks rather like a digital photo frame. At the other end of the scale, there’s the Amazon Echo Dot and Home Mini, both of which are tiny devices which will fit unobtrusively anywhere around the house – these have multiple microphones to hear you from across the room, and a small, basic internal speaker.
Then there’s the likes of Sonos’ One, which is roughly around the size of a bag of flour – still small enough to sit unobtrusively on a side table, but has amplification and drivers big enough to fill a room with full-bodied, crisp-sounding music.
It all depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a speaker with competent sonic capabilities, then size does matter – if you want to enjoy your music then you’ll need to look at Google and Amazon’s mid-sized devices, and if you want the very best then you’ll want something like the Sonos One with Amazon’s Alexa built-in. If, however, music isn’t your top priority, or you just want to have access to your virtual assistant in every room in the house, then the Google Home Mini or Echo Dot are cheaper, smaller alternatives that take up barely any room at all.
Which voice assistant is best? Amazon Alexa vs Google Assistant vs Apple Siri
There’s no right or wrong answer here, as it all depends on what you use more often, or what you’re used to.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, an Amazon Alexa device would make more sense, as it’ll connect with your Amazon account and allow you to place orders on a whim. If, however, you’ve got an Android phone and have got used to Google Assistant (or Google Now), then you’ll probably prefer a Google-enabled product.
Regardless of your affiliation, one current big plus point for Amazon’s Echo devices is the Drop-In function. This allows you to call any Echo in your home (or someone else’s) and use it as an intercom – you can chat, hands-free, with someone in any room with an Echo device. Google’s approach is a little different: you can broadcast a message to all your connected Google Home devices, only; it’s not an intercom.
There’s also Siri, the voice assistant that only features on the Apple HomePod. It works in the same way as it does on an iPhone. It might not be as comprehensive as the other two assistants, but if you’re devoted to the Apple ecosystem, it’s worth a thought.
Do voice assistants work together?
Speakers with different virtual assistants can be used on the same Wi-Fi network, however, if you want a multi-room setup, you’ll want to ensure all your speakers run on the same service (i.e. all using Amazon Alexa) – they’ll talk to you, but they won’t talk to each other, sadly.
There are a few options that don’t leave you tied to one specific voice assistant, however. For example, the Sonos One supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant – you can use either for assistance.
Is a smart speaker always listening to everything I say?
By its very nature, a smart speaker ‘listens’ to everything you’re saying, as it needs to be ready to pick up a voice command. You can, however, disable the automatic voice detection by turning off the mic through a hardware switch found on the device.
If you’re worried about your privacy, or are talking about something you believe is of a particularly sensitive nature, then simply toggle the mute switch – just remember to toggle it back on again if you want to interact with the speaker hands-free.
In practice, you may find yourself disabling the microphones during phone calls or video calls, as these voice assistants can tend to be triggered by any speech which sounds like their wake word. When confronted by everyday noise and conversation, they may occasionally pipe up and start listening for commands (and responding) when they’re not meant to, which can be annoying.
The best smart speakers in the UK
1. Google Nest Audio: The smartest smart speaker of them all
Price: £90 | Buy from John Lewis
Google’s latest smart speaker is a real gem: it looks great, sounds great and with Google Assistant on board it’s the smartest speaker you can buy, too.
Coupled with Google’s clever Ambient IQ tech, which adjusts volume and EQ on the fly depending on background noise, the Nest Audio is a joy to listen to and a pleasure to interact with.
The only thing it lacks, in comparison with Amazon’s smart speakers, at least, is a 3.5mm input/output. Otherwise, it’s a winner and a big upgrade on the original Google Home speaker.
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Google Assistant; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 2; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Dimensions: 174 x 124 x 78mm; Weight: 1.2kg
2. Amazon Echo 4th gen (2020): The best Alexa smart speaker
Price: £90 | Buy from Amazon
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo is quite a departure from the previous tin-can shaped speakers. Now spherical in shape with the LED light ring surrounding the base of the speaker instead of the top, the Amazon Echo is still a great smart speaker.
It sounds pretty good – although it’s not quite up to the same standard as the Nest Audio – and it comes with a Zigbee radio integrated so it can pair with and control smart home devices directly.
It’s a great speaker and often discounted in Amazon’s regular sales so it’s well worth waiting for the price to drop before you invest.
Read our full Amazon Echo 4th generation (2020) review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Alexa; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 3; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Dimensions: 144 x 144 x 33mm; Weight: 970g
£89.99 Buy now
3. Apple HomePod mini: The best smart speaker for iPhone owners
Price: £99 | Buy from John Lewis
Taking a leaf out of Amazon’s book (or perhaps it was the other way around?) Apple’s latest smart speaker is a much more affordable device than the first HomePod.
It’s smaller than the regular 4th generation Echo but it punches well above its weight when it comes to sound quality. Apple’s computational audio smarts ensure that whatever you feed it will sound great.
To make the most out of the speaker you do need to own an iPhone or an iPad, however, and although support for third-party music and radio services is now much better than it was, you still can’t play Spotify or BBC radio by asking Siri.
Read our full Apple HomePod mini review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Siri; Compatibility: iOS; Drivers: 1; Connectivity: Wi-Fi; Dimensions: 84 x 84 x 98mm; Weight: 345g
4. Google Nest Mini (2nd gen): The best Google Assistant speaker under £50
Price: £49 | Buy now from John Lewis
The Nest Mini is Google’s second-generation low-cost smart speaker. The design hasn’t changed much. There are a couple of extra LEDs on the side to show you where the touch zones are, and sound quality is marginally better than before, but largely it’s the same smart speaker as before and still lacks a 3.5mm input/output socket. Despite the marginal improvements, however, the Echo Dot remains the best low-cost smart speaker around.
Read our Google Nest Mini review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Google Assistant; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 1; Connectivity: Wi-Fi; Dimensions: 42 x 98 x 98mm; Weight: 177g
5. Amazon Echo Studio: The best smart speaker for the living room
Price: £189 | Buy now from Amazon
The Echo Studio is Amazon’s premium smart speaker but despite its build and fantastic sound quality, the price is remarkably reasonable. No, it isn’t as accomplished as the Sonos move and, no, it doesn’t come with a built-in battery but, for the money, you’re getting one hell of a lot of smart speaker.
Added to this, Amazon has included some pretty fantastic features. There’s an optical input so you can use it as a TV speaker and the Studio is Amazon’s first device to support its novel 3D audio format, which adds a sense of width you wouldn’t normally hear from a single speaker, although only in music played via Amazon’s music service that features the new tech.
All-in-all, the Echo Studio is a great speaker for the money. If you can’t stretch to the Sonos Move, it’s not far off as good and a considerably cheaper speaker.
Read our full Amazon Echo Studio review for details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Amazon Alexa; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 5; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, combination 3.5mm analogue/mini optical input; Dimensions: 170 x 170 x 206mm (WHD); Weight: 3.5kg
6. Sonos Move: The best smart speaker for sound quality
Price: £399 | Buy from Amazon
Sonos has a well-deserved reputation for producing smart speakers that sound great but the Move is the best it has produced to date. Fitted with a battery so it can be lugged from room to room, and rugged enough to act as a garden speaker, too, it’s the ultimate go-anywhere speaker.
It supports either Alexa or Google Assistant (not both simultaneously, you have to choose at setup time), you can connect via Bluetooth or AirPlay 2 and it sounds utterly wonderful. That’s largely thanks to Sonos’ TrueTone technology, which senses where in the room the speaker has been placed and automatically adjusts the EQ accordingly so it never sounds boomy or thin.
It isn’t the cheapest smart speaker around – the Echo Studio and Google Home Max both deliver similar muscularity for less money – but neither have the Move’s deft touch and balance or its battery-powered flexibility.
Read our full Sonos Move review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 2; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Dimensions: 160 x 126 x 240mm; Weight: 3kg
Sonos Move – The durable, battery-powered Smart Speaker for Outdoor and Indoor Listening, Black, with Alexa built-in
£389.00 Buy now
7. Ultimate Ears Blast: A portable smart speaker
Price: £109 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re looking for something portable and still want all the great features of the Megablast (below), the Ultimate Ears Blast is simply the best smart speaker around. Thanks to its IP68 waterproof design, it’ll survive being dunked for 30mins up to a depth of 1m – great for pool parties. It has Amazon Alexa built-in for all your beckoning call. Sonically, it’s less impressive than the Megablast, but it’s still far superior to other, cheaper, smart speakers.
Read our Ultimate Ears Blast review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Amazon Alexa, Compatibility: Android and iOS, Drivers: 4, Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Dimensions: 188 x 68 x 68mm, Weight: 640g
Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST Portable Waterproof Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Speaker with Hands-Free Voice Control – Graphite
$179.00 Buy now
8. Amazon Echo Sub: Add some bass to your Echo devices
Price: £120 | Buy now from Amazon
The Echo Sub isn’t like any of the other speakers in this roundup – it’s more of an add-on, rather than a standalone device. Here, the Echo Sub, pairs with Amazon’s Echo (2nd Gen) or Echo Plus (2nd Gen) to provide some much-needed bass. Better still, when paired with two of these speakers, you’ll get a stereo 2.1 sound.
Sonically, the Sub’s single 100W 6in driver extends down to 30Hz, which means you’ll get a deeper rumble and with its 50-200Hz crossover, it’ll also give you a better mid-bass thump. It definitively improves the low-end response of your Echo devices, though, should be reserved for those wanting more engaging bass from their Echo devices.
Read our Amazon Echo Sub review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Amazon Alexa, Compatibility: Android and iOS, Drivers: 1, Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Dimensions: 202 x 210 x 210mm, Weight: 4,200g
Echo Sub | Powerful subwoofer for your Echo—requires compatible Echo device and compatible music streaming service
£119.99 Buy now
$129.99 Buy now
9. Google Home Hub: Google Assistant with a 7in touchscreen
Price: £139 | Buy now from John Lewis
The Google Home Hub is great if you love Google Assistant and want to visualise your search results. It works like the Google Home (above) but adds a 7in touchscreen display into the mix. This allows you to scroll through your search results, tap on your calendar items, and with its integrated speaker listen to music or watch a YouTube video – a perfect companion for the kitchen. Now, it’s not the most sonically capable speaker on the market, especially when compared to Google Home above, but if you’re not planning on listening to music for hours on end, it’ll suffice.
Read our Google Home Hub review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Google Assistant, Compatibility: Android and iOS, Drivers: 1, Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Dimensions: 118 x 178.5 x 68.3mm, Weight: 480g
10. JBL Link 20: A waterproof Google Assistant speaker
Price: £179 | Buy now from Currys PC World
If you were looking for an all-weatherproof smart speaker with Google Assistant built-in, then you’ll love the JBL Link 20. This speaker is IPX7-rated, which means you can submerge it to a depth of 1m for 30mins. Sonically, its two 10W drivers provide a fun sound signature. Expect prominent mid-bass tones, recessed mids and accentuated highs; perfect for mainstream music. It’s loud, too – it doesn’t distort at the highest volume and will easily fill a large room.
Read our full JBL Link 20 review for details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Google Assistant, Compatibility: Android and iOS, Drivers: 2, Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Dimensions: 218 x 93 x 93mm, Weight: 950g
11. Sonos One: The perfect addition to the Sonos ecosystem
Price: £200 | Buy now from Amazon
The Sonos One takes its inspiration from the Play:1 speaker, and adds smart speaker functions for good measure. With two Class-D digital amplifiers, a tweeter and one mid-woofer driver, the Sonos One is the best sounding smart speaker money can currently buy – it gets seriously loud without losing composure, and can be paired with a second Sonos One to form a stereo pair. It also integrates with other Sonos speakers with its multi-room capabilities, and as it currently supports Amazon Alexa you can also use it to control music playback on Sonos speakers throughout the home.
Read our Sonos One review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 2; Connectivity: Wi-Fi; Dimensions: 161 x 119 x 119mm; Weight: 1.9kg
12. Amazon Echo Show 10: The best Alexa touchscreen
Price: £240 | Buy now from Amazon
The third generation of the Amazon Echo Show – the company’s video Alexa device – updates the formula by giving its 10in display the ability to tilt its screen as you move around the room.
This is achieved thanks to a 13-megapixel camera and beam-forming microphones that pinpoint your location and pivot the touchscreen accordingly. It’s a useful addition for video calls. Not only can the camera turn and track you around the room physically, its object tracking technology is also able to recognise how far you are from the camera and digitally reframe and zoom the view to keep you centred.
Aside from the moveable screen, the Echo Show 10 upgrades a range of other features over its predecessor, including superior screen quality, improved UI and better-balanced audio.
Read our full Amazon Echo Show 10 review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Amazon Alexa; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 2; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Dimensions: 251 x 230 x 172 mm; Weight: 2.6kg
£239.99 Buy now
13. Ultimate Ears Megablast: The most versatile smart speaker
Price: £270 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re looking for a smart speaker that isn’t tied to a mains socket, then Ultimate Ears’ Megablast is just the ticket. The IP67 water- and dust-proof design comes in six elegant shades, and has Amazon Alexa built-in with far-field microphone technology so you can chat to Alexa even while you’re splashing around in the hot tub. It’s the most expensive speaker here, but sound quality is on point, with four extremely powerful drivers delivering punchy bass and a beautifully warm sound.
Read our Ultimate Ears Megablast review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Amazon Alexa; Compatibility: Android and iOS; Drivers: 4; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Dimensions: 237 x 88 x 88mm; Weight: 1,190g
Ultimate Ears Megablast Bluetooth Speaker, Portable Wi-Fi/Loud Waterproof Wireless Speaker with Alexa built-in – Red
£158.33 Buy now
Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST Portable Waterproof Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Speaker with Hands-Free Voice Control – Graphite
$179.00 Buy now
14. Libratone Zipp 2: Excellent sound quality, stylish design
Price: £279 | Buy now from Amazon
The Zipp 2 is the best Amazon Alexa-enabled smart speaker we’ve heard. Its 6 far field mics pick up voice accurately and at a great distance; it has a built-in battery that’ll last 12hrs; its stylish and colourful designs will suit diverse personalities; it has multi-room capabilities, where you can hook up 10 speakers simultaneously using AirPlay 2 or Libratone’s SoundSpace Link app to stream music; it can store up to 5 playlists or radio stations; it has intuitive touch controls; it’ll integrate with Apple’s Siri and HomeKit; and to top it off, the Zipp 2 sounds amazing, it’s a step up from the UE Megablast (above). The only thing it lacks is water resistance, but we’ll forgive the Danes this time around.
Read our Libratone Zipp 2 review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Amazon Alexa; Compatibility: Android, iOS; Drivers: 4; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, 3.5mm, USB, DLNA; Dimensions: 261 x 122 x 122mm; Weight: 1,200g
Libratone ZIPP 2 Smart Wireless Speaker (with Alexa built-in, AirPlay 2, MultiRoom, 360 ° Sound, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, 12 hrs Rechargeable Battery) – Frosty Grey
£89.95 Buy now
Libratone Zipp Wifi Bluetooth Smart Speaker, 360° Loud Stereo Sound with Dual Mic Build-in, 15W Woofer Deep Bass, 12 Hour Playtime, Airplay2 and Spotify connect, Work with Alexa(Nordic Black)
$199.87 Buy now
15. Apple HomePod: A serious speaker for iPhone lovers
Price: £319 | Buy now from John Lewis
If you’ve invested in Apple’s ecosystem, you’ll love the company’s flagship speaker. At £319 it isn’t cheap but it’s well worth the investment. It sounds fantastic, thanks in part to automatic room EQ, it’ll seamlessly integrate with Apple Music and has a very simple setup.
Its biggest flaw is the fact that it doesn’t play nicely with non-iOS devices but, if you’re an iPhone owner, you won’t care about that too much. With Apple steadily improving support for third-party music and radio streaming services since launch, it’s well worth a look.
Read our Apple HomePod review for more details
Key specs – Voice Assistant: Siri; Compatibility: iOS; Drivers: 8; Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2; Dimensions: 172 x 142 x 142mm; Weight: 2,500g